Women from across the city and other parts of the country on Monday came together to mock Prime Minister Narendra Modi over his recently televised “apolitical” interview with Bollywood actor Akshay Kumar, as they presented 56 hard-hitting questions on the ailing state of the nation to the Prime Minister.
“The interview trivialised the real issues being faced by the people and glazed over questions related to the failures of the government, including issues of unemployment, grand corruption, crony capitalism, rising hate, inflation and human rights’ violations,” said social activist Shabnam Hashmi, addressing a press conference in New Delhi.
In a symbolic gesture meant to take potshots at Modi over a particular question in his “apolitical” interview, the organisers of the conference decorated their tables with mangoes. The Prime Minister had been massively roasted on social media on being asked how he liked his mangoes during the interview, which many believe had been scripted to go around the Model Code of Conduct.
“The PM found a new way to defy the MCC,” remarked Hashmi.
“The 56 questions we are asking our 56” chhaati (chest) Prime Minister are themed on pressing issues of hunger, rural distress, farmers’ suicides, unemployment and demonetisation. Our questions relate to the attacks on institutions such as the judiciary, press, Reserve Bank of India, the Central Bureau of Investigation during the last five years,” explained Hashmi.
She informed the mediapersons that the press conference was part of an ongoing campaign #WomenMarch4Change. A huge women-led march had been organised in the National Capital on April 4 under the banner to highlight the failures of the Modi government.
The press interaction on Monday also drew women from different walks of lives and from different economic backgrounds, all of them left disillusioned by the policies of the government.
Sheila, a resident of Jagdamba Camp in the Capital, complained about the low food rations, commenting that five kilograms of rice allocated to each household wasn’t enough to feed a family for an entire month.
It was pointed out at the conference that during his time as chief minister of Gujarat, Modi had said that five kilograms of entitlement under the National Food Security Act was “completely inadequate” and “would push people to starvation.”
Commenting on the dismal state of education under the current government, Archana, an educational activist, noted that government schools across the country were deliberately being starved of resources so as to favour the entry of private players into the education sector.
“In 2014, the budget allocation for education stood at 4.5 per cent of the total expenditure. The most recent budget saw it coming down to 3.5 per cent,” she said.
She highlighted that private schools had witnessed a rise of 45 per cent in enrolments in the last five years, compared to 8.5 per cent increase in enrolments in government-run schools over the same period of time.
“Nearly 2.6 lakh government schools are on the verge of closing down,” she lamented.
Sudha, a mother of two unemployed youth, complained that it had become utterly hard to find employment, with both her sons running from pillar-to-post in search of a job but in vain.
“Finding the job of a security guard has become difficult,” she said.
“Nothing commendable has happened in the realms of education, healthcare, sanitation, or employment opportunities in the last five years,” said noted RTI activist Anjali Bhardwaj.
“While there are so many pressing issues plaguing the nation, the PM is busy giving interviews on mangoes,” she went on to say.
She said that the PM seemed more responsive to the needs of the big corporates than the common folk.
“The PM should answer questions on the problems we are facing than taking questions on mangoes,” commented Bhardwaj.
o How many jobs were created in the last five years? Why is the government suppressing official data on unemployment?
o Why has the government stopped publishing data on farmer suicides since 2015? Why did the government fail to address the issue?
o More than 40 whistle-blowers- the real chowkidars- have been killed since 2014 for exposing corruption and wrongdoing. Why has the government not operationalised the Whistle-blowers’ Protection Act passed in 2014?
o Why was more than 50 per cent of the budget for Beti Padhao Beti Bachao spent on media-related activities, or publicity between 2014 and 2019?
o Why has the government not taken any action on 75 starvation deaths reported from across the country?
o Why did the Modi government fail to increase the ration entitlement from five kilogram by even one kilogram per family?